PITTSBURGH -- Defensive end Aaron Smith has been one of the
Pittsburgh Steelers' most dependable players since his rookie
season in 1999, rarely overpowered at the line of scrimmage or
caught in a mismatch against a superior player.
The problem is Smith can't produce if he's not on the field and,
for the first time since his rookie year, he won't be there Sunday
in Cincinnati. Smith did not practice all week because of a
sprained ligament in his left knee and won't play in the key AFC
Coach Mike Tomlin understands what losing one of the NFL's most
consistent defensive linemen means.
"Aaron is as good a football player as we have on this team,
not only on the defense," Tomlin said. "You know what you are
going to get from him. ... The level of his play is consistent and
Steelers-Bengals matchups in recent seasons have featured Smith
going against Cincinnati right tackle Willie Anderson, but Anderson
is likewise out with a knee injury.
Also out for the Steelers (4-2) is safety Ryan Clark, who had a
spleen problem while playing Sunday in Denver and didn't practice
all week. He will be replaced by Anthony Smith, who usually plays
in extra-back alignments.
Cornerback Bryant McFadden (sprained ankle) also isn't expected
to return after being held out for the last two games.
Aaron Smith has started every Steelers game but two since 2000,
but was injured during the first quarter of the Steelers' 31-28
loss Sunday in Denver and did not return. He wanted to come back
but was not cleared by team doctors, then wasn't all that happy
when Tomlin effectively ruled him out of this game early in the
"That's my motto: Whatever the coach says, that's what I'll
say," Smith said.
The Steelers aren't making any predictions on how long Smith
will be out, but such an injury often forces a player to sit for
multiple games. Smith apparently does not need surgery, which
likely would have sidelined him for the season.
"As soon as I can get on that field and be healthy and compete,
I'm going to get on the field and do it," Smith said. "I'll just
try to stay in shape and stay involved as much as I can."
Nick Eason, formerly of the Browns, filled in for Smith in the
base defense during the Denver game, with Travis Kirschke or Chris Hoke taking his spot inside at tackle depending on the alignment. Rookie linebacker LaMarr Woodley may line up as an end on certain
"Aaron Smith is one of the better defensive linemen in the
NFL," said Eason, who had one tackle in Denver. "He plays at a
high level. It's my job to play to the same level that he plays at
and not let it be a letdown."
Smith said he is certain that the Steelers will be fine without
him against the Bengals (2-4). Smith is tied with Kevin Greene for
ninth in team history with 35 1/2 sacks despite being used irregularly
as a pass rusher.
"I believe anybody on our defensive line can step in and
play," Smith said.